Colquitt Countians Help South GeorgiaLEADS Address Regional Challenges

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From The Moultrie Observer

May 12—MOULTRIE, Ga. — Over the last few months, South GeorgiaLEADS brought together 14 alumni of its previous leadership classes for an experience called SGL 2.0 in which participants were tasked with creating action plans to address regional challenges.

Colquitt Countians Sarah Adams and Tommie Beth Willis were among the participants. Adams is Colquitt County’s professional with the University of Georgia’s Archway Project and Willis is president of the Moultrie-Colquitt County Chamber of Commerce.

The teams chose to focus on workforce development, regional capacity, and health and wellness. With evaluation and feedback from a team of judges from around the state with subject matter expertise within each of these areas, SGL 2.0 was a first of its kind leadership alumni program in Georgia, according to a press release from Barbara Grogan, chair of South GeorgiaLEADS and president of the Moultrie-Colquitt County Development Authority.

Alumni participant and 2018-2019 South GeorgiaLEADS class member Dr. Renata Elad, dean of the Stafford School of Business at ABAC, shares her reasons for reengaging with SGL: “I returned because I wanted to improve my understanding of critical issues impacting economic growth, and for a chance to contribute to positive change in our region.”

The class had only five months to get to know each other, settle on a concept, conduct interviews and research their topic areas, Grogan said. The program used a design-thinking model to address issues, invited potential funders across the state to hear their concepts and offer feedback, and ultimately had each team present in a “Shark Tank” style closing session in March.

“Regionalism is the core competency of SGL,” Elad said. “Within that framework we were able to use our diverse backgrounds and perspectives to investigate and come up with solutions to tangible issues that impact our lives. Each team worked on a different concern and had a different approach to the solution. But universally, we came to the same conclusion that with a little help we have the resources within the region to advance our economic growth and bring to light the aspects that continue to draw people to South Georgia.”

The three teams were paired with mentors from the South GeorgiaLEADS Board. Rachael Oliver, regional manager for Georgia Family Connection Partnership, was one of those mentors.

“SGL 2.0 was an amazing experience because, as a mentor, I was able to get to know the class participants more in depth and work closely with them by providing my own skills, knowledge, and leadership to help in the process and ultimately in the creation of their own unique project,” Oliver said. “This class was a true test of putting leadership to action and creating a viable project that could be sustainable in our region with great benefits to improve pertinent issues.”

In addition to Adams and Willis of Colquitt County, participants came from Dougherty, Lee, Lowndes, Sumter and Tift counties. They included people in private business, government agencies and nonprofits.

Retired President & CEO of the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce and sitting Chairman of the State Department of Driver Services David Connell was the keynote speaker during the final celebration held at Ocean Pond Fishing Club in Lake Park. Challenging the alumni teams to think and act strategically for long-term growth of the region, Connell was equally impressed by the ambitious effort the teams put forth and the passion with which each team shared their plans and love for South Georgia.

Guest judges for the final presentations included: Steve Card, executive director, Georgia Recreation and Park Association; Austin Chancy, housing policy analyst, Georgia Department of Community Affairs; DeAnnia Clements, president, Wiregrass Georgia Technical College; Kimberly Hobbs, community and economic development director, Southern Georgia Regional Commission; Andrea Schruijer, chair, Locate South Georgia Board of Directors and executive director, Valdosta-Lowndes Development Authority; and Trevor Quander, chair, Regional Business Coalition of Metropolitan Atlanta and Area Manager, Metro West, Georgia Power Company.

“What a brilliant concept!” Quander said. “To have past graduates comeback through the program and provide real time solutions for pressing community issues and problems is ingenious! This will most likely become a best practice and model standard for other regional and strategic leadership programs. This not only helps identify current leaders in the community but provides metrics when certifying and validating a groups’ energy and effort to contribute. Hats off to South Georgia LEADS 2.0!”

Looking ahead to the future impact of the alumni program in conjunction with the traditional SGL program, Grogan reflected, “When LEADS launched, we all knew there would come a day we would need to take a next step, answer the ‘so what’ question of why we do this. SGL 2.0 is the first step in answering that question. Participants thought critically about needs of region, crafted responses and ideas to meet the needs, and formulated their ideas into a possible process for response. Now, with our network of over 160 alumni, leaders and supporters across the region, we have the capacity to operationalize the ideas. SGL 2.0 ideas will continue forward as we launch the sixth cohort of LEADS, driving the topics forward and leading Southwest Georgia.”

Sponsors of South GeorgiaLEADS 2.0 were: Sustaining Sponsor Georgia Power Company, Presenting Sponsor Electric Cities of Georgia, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, AT&T, Collins Event Space, Colony Bank, Cordele-Crisp County Industrial Development Council, First National Bank, Fitzgerald & Ben Hill County Development Authority, Georgia CEO, Greater Valdosta United Way, Leadership Worth, Lee County Chamber of Commerce, Locate South Georgia, Moultrie-Colquitt County Development Authority, One Sumter Economic Development Foundation, Southern Regional Technical College, Sumter Electric Membership Corporation (EMC), Sylvester-Worth County Chamber of Commerce, Upland Wealth Advisors, and the Valdosta-Lowndes Development Authority.

South GeorgiaLEADS is supported each year by program implementation partners Center for South Georgia Regional Impact at Valdosta State University and the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at the University of Georgia.

South GeorgiaLEADS will return to its traditional programming in August, with recruitment for the 2022-2023 class to begin in June.

For more information about South GeorgiaLEADS, please visit; or contact South GeorgiaLEADS Chair Barbara Grogan at 229-921-1457; or

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